Restrictive abortion legislation left pending in Senate committee

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Three bills regulating abortions were brought before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday, bringing about passionate testimony on both sides of the issue. 

Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and chair of the committee said at the outset of the hearing that the bills deal with “affirming the sanctity of life.” 

The first bill discussed, Senate Bill 8, was authored by Schwertner. Schwertner said the motivation behind the bill came from 2015 video footage alleging Planned Parenthood had sold fetal organs. Schwertner said his bill aims to restrict elective abortions for profit. 

SB 8 bans the donation of fetal tissue in elected abortions, limiting tissue donations to research institutions and institutions of higher education to only non-elected abortions occurring at licensed facilities.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was the most outspoken voice against all three pieces of legislation during the hearing and said “donation” isn’t defined clearly in the bill in regards to cases involving rape or fetal medical abnormalities. 

SB 8 would also extend the federal ban on partial-birth abortions, a procedure ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. 

A separate bill, SB 415, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, mandates the absence of a fetal heartbeat before dilation and evacuation abortions are performed. Perry said these D&E or “dismemberment” procedures make up 96 percent of all second-trimester abortions.

“You are required to terminate the life of a child before you tear it apart piece by piece,” Perry said. 

In the same 2003 case, the Court struck down a ban on dismemberment procedures saying they pose no threat to the safety of the mother. Perry said his bill does not ban the procedures but rather protects the state’s interest in preserving potential life by putting an ‘end to these barbaric practices.’”  

Opposition to the bill came from Watson, who said the legislation doesn’t deal with protecting the health of the mother but obstructs the safest, most commonly practiced
second-trimester procedure. 

Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, authored SB 258, the final bill before the committee, which would require fetal and ectopic remains to be buried following an abortion or miscarriage that occurs in a hospital.  

Watson again questioned how the bill protects the health and safety of the mother. 

“My bill is not about that,” Huffines said. “My bill deals with the dignity of the unborn, and that is a profound purpose for the state of Texas.” 

Watson said the decision should be left to the mother. He also raised a concern about the cost associated with this method of disposal of fetal remains. 

“I’m trying to make sure the bill would work,” Watson said. 

All invited testimony during the hearing was in favor of the bills. However, public testimony was given on both sides of the issue. Pro-regulation groups and individuals called for broader abortion bans and the need for a Senate bill similar to House Bill 948 that criminalizes all abortion practices. 

The Committee, composed of six Republicans and three Democrats, left the bills pending, with their next meeting to be announced.